Behind the Work in association withThe Immortal Awards
Behind Olay’s Plans to End the Gender Gap in Stem Careers in India
Advertising Agency
Singapore, Singapore
Senior vice president Priyali Kamath tells LBB’s Zoe Antonov about Olay’s new campaign #STEMTheGap that aims to eradicate gender biases in STEM fields in India

Leading skincare brand Olay and Publicis PG ONE Singapore have collaborated on the brand’s new campaign, aiming to shed light on gender biases and fund STEM scholarships for girls across India in partnership with School EdTech major LEAD. This scholarship program is set to help 3000+ schools to deliver an international standard of education to 1.2 million+ students.

Since a very early age gender bias plays a tremendous role in young people’s lives – girls get given kitchen sets for their birthdays as opposed to toy robots and construction sets for boys, everywhere in the world. That sort of conditioning seeps into most crevasses of life and tampers the ambitions of children in all kinds of fields, and especially young girls with an interest in what would be considered ‘not for girls.’ According to the United Nations, in India women make up a slim 14% of the workforce in science, technology, engineering and maths and there have been efforts to change this equation. 

Olay, as a brand of science, but also proudly a brand of women, is committing to try and close the gender gap in STEM with the launch of its initiative #STEMTheGap. The hard-hitting film that goes with the campaign shows audiences how these unconscious gender biases stop young girls from pursuing what they want to do most, and also make those very few that actually pursue a career in STEM very unsure in their capabilities. Ajay Vikram, chief creative officer at Publicis Singapore maintains that ‘the fact is, the current gap between boys and girls lies not in their abilities, but in our minds – we can all play a part in narrowing this gap by being more aware and conscious of our everyday biases and societal blind spots.’ 

Senior vice president Priyali Kamath spoke to LBB’s Zoe Antonov about how Olay is dedicated to mend those everyday biases and blind spots, the influence media has on social issues of this scope and the overall making of #STEMTheGap.

LBB> What was the brief for this campaign and what were the conversations surrounding it? 

Priyali> In a decade’s time, the majority of jobs will be technology-based. Yet, in India, women make up only 14% of the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) workforce in STEM. This is a staggeringly low percentage, however, this stark gender gap is not well-known or much discussed in India. Olay set out to change that and spark conversation around this important issue. 

LBB> Tell me more about the main messages you aimed to convey through the campaign!

Priyali> Olay’s key insight was that whilst girls and boys are born equal, it’s our words and actions that teach them otherwise. And the reality is that the STEM gap is rooted in those larger unconscious gender biases that exist in society about the supposed differences between boys and girls, particularly in scientific and technological ability. This is what Olay truly aimed to convey, with the film holding up a mirror to those conscious and especially unconscious ways in which we perpetuate this myth.

LBB> Why do you believe touching upon topics such as this one is important in India? 

Priyali> As a brand rooted in science but proudly also a brand of women (amongst Olay’s 220 scientists, 50% are women), Olay advocates for women in STEM globally. Yet, as mentioned, the gender gap in India is particularly stark with women making up only 14% of the workforce in STEM, compared to 24% in the US for example. In India specifically, women face cultural barriers and expectations around stereotypical gender roles which means they are often stereotyped as caregivers or homemakers and restricted in their fields of study to subjects such as teaching, nursing, fine arts, and home economics. Olay believes it’s these gender biases and stereotypes that are holding women and girls back. While there has been an increase in the number of STEM jobs in India, in order to participate effectively in future jobs, we should be enabling more Indian girls to fearlessly pursue STEM education and careers.

LBB> How have the audiences received the campaign? What has the feedback been?

Priyali> So far, we’ve received an overwhelmingly positive response to the campaign, which is incredibly encouraging. Many are reaching out to thank Olay for highlighting such an important message and sharing the film with their own networks. Of course, this is just the beginning and ultimately, we hope that our efforts spark a conversation for meaningful positive change.

LBB> What, for you, is the role that communications and media play in starting conversations such as this one?

Priyali> Communications and media influence how we see the world and have the power to change mindsets. Olay believes in using its voice in advertising to take a leading role in driving meaningful change. With our #STEMTheGap campaign, we are shedding a light on the unconscious gender biases that we all carry. Ultimately, we believe that we need to collectively address these biases to truly be able to #STEMTheGap, and therefore need to generate mass awareness and willingness in order to drive change.

LBB> What do you hope to be the ultimate outcome of the campaign?

Priyali> Olay’s #STEMTheGap initiative is a meaningful long-term commitment for the brand, with the mission to double the number of women in STEM in 10 years.

LBB> Tell me more about the strategy of the campaign! What have the biggest challenges been?

Priyali> There are many different ways in which Olay could have highlighted the issue around the STEM gender gap in India. We felt, however, that the best way to generate mass awareness and make a positive impact would be to find what would resonate most broadly and strongly. Of course, it’s easy for audiences to assume that the STEM gender gap issue has nothing to do with them, and this is exactly why Olay’s strategy was to leverage the film to answer the question: “what does this have to do with me?”. Holding up a mirror to our unconscious biases can be uncomfortable, but this confrontation is exactly what makes the film and this campaign so powerful. Beyond this, Olay is also taking meaningful on-the-ground action and funding STEM scholarships for girls across India in partnership with LEAD. Our program is already making a real difference today, and we are excited to be part of driving a positive future for girls in India.

LBB> How do you think advertising should change in India in order to be able to address the gender biases that women experience? What's the best way to do so?

Priyali> As mentioned, advertising influences how we see the world. Olay has a long history of empowering women to be confident and fearless, and this extends to how women are portrayed in our advertising and the stories that we tell. Portraying empowered and confident women is core to Olay’s brand values, and above all we do this because we believe in equality. We consciously leverage our voice in advertising and media to tackle bias and promote gender equality and, of course, we hope that our approach inspires others to follow this path too. We’re also making sure that women are better represented behind the camera and have called for the industry to get to 50/50 representation in the creative pipeline as well. We are proud to share that we have already achieved 50/50 representation of women directors globally on Olay.

LBB> Any final thoughts?

Priyali> Thank you for placing a spotlight on this important issue. We believe that it’s our collective responsibility to prepare girls for the jobs of the future and are committed to helping close the gender gap in STEM. Together, let’s #STEMTheGap!

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